Milk Goes to School: Terry Border

Book: Milk Goes to School
Author: Terry Border
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8


Terry Border, the author/illustrator of the Peanut Butter and Cupcake books, has a new back-to-school picture book called Milk Goes to School. In this story, Milk, a cute little red and white milk carton, starts school for the first time. She's excited about her sparkly new backpack, and her dad has attempted to boost her confidence by telling her that she is "la creme de la creme". But when she points these things out to the other students, they quickly conclude that "this Milk is spoiled." As the day progresses, Milk makes mis-step after mis-step, adding to the perception (about which she is in deep denial) that she is spoiled. But after a humiliating experience, Milk does refresh her behavior a bit by the end of the book and find some common ground with the other food children. 

Milk Goes to School is full of wordplay, particularly puns about food. Like this:

"Milk asked Carrot, "Would you like to share crayons?"

"I don't carrot all," Carrot said. "Like I said to Salad, lettuce be friends!"

Carrot seemed okay."

I was reading this book to myself and didn't get this at first. This is a book that calls for being read aloud. There's also this, sure to make a four-year-old giggle:

"Later, in the library, Milk asked if someone cut the cheese.

I don't like that saying," said Cheese, "but I think someone tooted."

"Oops. Sorry," said Beans. 

Much of the humor of the book, however, lies in Border's unique and whimsical illustrations. These were created by manipulating and photographing three-dimensional objects, such as, say, a milk carton with wire arms and legs, wearing a backpack. Fun details are everywhere, like the fishtank full of goldfish crackers and the image of Milk imagining herself as a queen, surrounded by foil-wrapped chocolate coins. I especially enjoyed the family pictures that the students drew, such as three apples (two large and one small) sitting on the branch of a tree. And I'm still smiling over Potato who "wanted to be a sailor on a gravy boat" when he grew up. Oh, and the eggs hatching chicken nuggets. Priceless! 

For me as an adult reader, the story itself is a little bit repetitive, with food puns throughout and Milk saying over and over again that she "didn't think she was spoiled at all." But I think that kids will find Milk Goes to School hilarious, especially kids who have already been through the pain of starting school and making new friends.

I quite respect Border's choice to make Milk, well, a bit spoiled. She does some nice things for the other kids, but she fusses when something is spilled on her drawing, she wants people to see how well she can spell and draw, etc. One suspects that she is an only child who hasn't had much chance to socialize with other kids. This makes Milk Goes to School braver than your run of the mill back-to-school picture book, where the issues are more about overcoming shyness or missing parents, etc. We have realistic character development in 32 food-covered, pun-filled pages. 

I'll add that my six-year-old just came in as I was writing this review, book open on my lap. She shrieked in recognition, saying "I had Peanut Butter and Cupcake in my Kindergarten class. And that's the exact same cupcake." She is VERY excited to read the book (but has friends over right now). I think this incident speaks to Border's distinctive and kid-friendly illustration style. 

In short, Milk Goes to School is a must-purchase for library back-to-school collections. It is sure to stand out, visually and thematically, and to be a favorite with kids. Recommended!

Publisher:  Philomel Books (@PenguinKids) 
Publication Date: June 28, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: The Sea Pony by Ellen Potter + Qin Leng

Book: Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: The Sea Pony (Book 3)
Author: Ellen Potter
Illustrator: Qin Leng
Pages: 128
Age Range: 7-9


The Sea Pony is the third book in the Piper Green and the Fairy Tree early chapter book series. (See my review of Books 1 and 2 here.) Piper is a seven-year-old girl who lives on a small island off the coast of Maine. Her island is so small that the younger kids take a lobster boat every morning to another island to attend school. Piper's older brother attends high school on the mainland, and can only come home on weekends. The other thing that's noteworthy about Piper is that she has a Fairy Tree in her front yard. She leaves small gifts for the fairies inside the tree, and they sometimes leave gifts for her. These gifts are mysterious at first, but generally turn out to be exactly what Piper needed.

In The Sea Pony, Piper finds a necklace in the tree. I won't spoil the surprise, but the necklace leads directly to Piper's discovery of the Sea Pony, as well as to the recovery of a lost family item. I'm never 100% clear on whether the Fairy Tree actually is magic, or whether a kindly neighbor might be intervening. But the sequence of events in The Sea Pony certainly have a magical quality to them. There's also a horse, and the chance for Piper to show up her nemesis. Seven-year-old readers will love it!

I quite like Piper. She's independent and resourceful, but with realistic capabilities and shortcomings. She tries to make a special meal for her brother and the result is something of a fiasco. But (living on a small island) she can go to the store by herself and get a missing ingredient. She helps her dad on his lobster boat. She's savvy enough to request payment, but young enough to think that at 10 cents a bait bag she'll earn enough to buy a horse in no time. She reminded me of my daughter in her optimism, willingness to work, and unrealistic larger expectations. Here are a couple of snippets:

"I'd never had a fancy necklace before. The only necklace I owned was made out of folded-up potato chip bags. My best friend, Ruby, made it for me." (Chapter 2)


(On learning that a surprise will be arriving on the ferry) "I wondered what it could be. A candy-vending machine, maybe? Or a gigantic turtle?

Then I thought of something.

"I'll bet it's a CIRCUS!!" I said in my whistle language." (Chapter 3)

Isn't Piper perfect? I also like Ellen Potter's occasional use of Maine lingo. The title of Chapter 7 is: "A Wicked Bad Gullywhumper" (a big storm). 

Qn Leng's black and white illustrations (one per chapter, a mix of whole and half-page pictures) convey Piper's movement and enthusiasm, as well as the coziness of the island. The expression on Piper's face as she stuffs smelly fish into a bait bag in Chapter 7 is priceless. 

The Piper Green and the Fairy Tree series, and The Sea Pony in particular, has a nice mix of "stuff kids think are cool" (living on a small island, taking boats, a Fairy Tree) and realistic family/community/kid dynamics. Piper's family is not the most well-off on the island, and her father doesn't hesitate to take her to task when she uses bait injudiciously. But the island also acquires a horse! The Sea Pony strikes a nice balance, I think. I'm happy to see this series continuing strong. I think it's a perfect fit for kids just starting to be ready for chapter books. Recommended, and definitely a nice addition for libraries serving new readers. 

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: August 16, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

#JoyOfLearning Articles from @PerriKlass + @Mind_Research + @JasonBoog + @AlisonGopnik

JoyOFLearningLogoToday I have two articles about growing bookworms, one about giving kids positive experiences with math (rather than focusing so much on "achievement"), and one about the value of learning through play. The first article is about the benefits of giving young children real, print books. The second is about giving kids choice in what they read. This one was written in response to another piece that cast aspersions on kids' choices, also linked here. The third piece is about ways to get kids to play with math and use it to answer compelling questions. The fourth piece shares recent research about the ways that babies and preschoolers learn (naturally, though play and inquiry). All of these articles are, ultimately, about how to nurture joy in reading, math, and learning in general. Happy reading!

ReachOutAndReadThe Merits of #Reading Real (paper) Books to Your Children by @PerriKlass @nytimes  #RaisingReaders @reachoutandread

Perri Klass: "I love book-books. I cannot imagine living in a house without them, or putting a child to bed in a room that doesn’t have shelves of books, some tattered and beloved, some new and waiting for their moment. It’s what I wanted for my own children, and what I want for my patients; I think it is part of what every child needs. There’s plenty that I read on the screen, from journal articles to breaking news, but I don’t want books to go away...

Part of what makes paper a brilliant technology may be, in fact, that it offers us so much and no more. A small child cannot tap the duck and elicit a quack; for that, the child needs to turn to a parent. And when you cannot tap the picture of the horse and watch it gallop across the page, you learn that your brain can make the horse move as fast as you want it to, just as later on it will show you the young wizards on their broomsticks, and perhaps even sneak you in among them."

Me: Perri Klass is the National Medical Director for Reach Out and Read, a fabulous organization that provides doctors with books to give to kids on their well-child visits. I agree with her about the need for kids to have "book-books" as she calls them, vs. eBooks. As an adult, I adore my Kindle, particularly for travel. But for my six-year-old, everything I've read, and everything my instincts tell me, says that her books should be in print, not on a screen, for as long as possible. 

BornReadingLet Kids Read Whatever They Want to Read | Follow the child's lead  @jasonboog @GalleyCat via @PWKidsBookshelf

Jason Boog: "For decades, child developmental research has proven that children learn best when they pursue their own interests. The child’s interest is far more important than the choice of reading material. Parents, caregivers, librarians and teachers need to follow a child’s lead when choosing books—no matter what they want to read...

Stop wasting time arguing about the quality of children’s books. Use your energy to help kids chase the stories they love in libraries, app stores, and playgrounds."

Me: Jason Boog's brief piece was written in response to a Slate article in which Gabriel Roth noted kids' love of books featuring licensed characters seen on TV or in movies, rather than reading what their parents might want them to read. That piece sparked a bunch of discussion (including this piece by Catherine Nichols, defending occasional literary "junk food"). These discussions about the quality of children's literature crop up from time to time, of course, and have ever since there has been children's literature in the first place. 

My own experience has been that my daughter enjoys running across books about licensed characters that she likes (from the Frozen princess to Angry Birds). She'll sometimes bring home stacks of such books from the library. I've never had any problem with this, though there are certainly (as Roth indicates in his piece) books that I personally enjoy more. My take on it is that it's not a good idea to insult a child's taste (because this may turn them off reading, which is the worst outcome), so I am generally with Boog on the idea of letting kids read what they want. But I do find, unlike what Roth describes, that if I ALSO keep the books that I like around, and offer those as an option, my daughter will end up enjoying many of those, too. 

Why We Should Worry Less About the "Achievement Gap" + focus on giving kids great #math experiences  @MIND_Research

Brandon Smith: "The achievement gap is just a symptom of a bigger problem... a dissonance between the rich mathematical experiences students should have and what they actually have. This is what I've started calling the "experience gap." For example, when we teach children division with fractions, we have them memorize "Ours not to reason why ... just invert and multiply!" We don't ask kids to understand the why and how this works -- we discourage them from even thinking about it...

Great experiences have tricky problems, twists we didn't see coming, and structure that we can find if we look. Great experiences put faith in mathematics and in people. A great experience is a chance to play with mathematics -- with authentic mathematics where learning happens. We need to give students rich opportunities to learn by doing rather than static observation or rote memorization of rules."

Me: I agree wholeheartedly with Smith's point that we need to teach kids how to PLAY with math, and that it's in working to answer interesting questions that real learning occurs. 

New research shows "We don’t have to make children learn, we just have to let them learn"  @nytopinion @AlisonGopnik

Alison Gopnik: "We take it for granted that young children “get into everything.” But new studies of “active learning” show that when children play with toys they are acting a lot like scientists doing experiments. Preschoolers prefer to play with the toys that will teach them the most, and they play with those toys in just the way that will give them the most information about how the world works....

New research tells us scientifically what most preschool teachers have always known intuitively. If we want to encourage learning, innovation and creativity we should love our young children, take care of them, talk to them, let them play and let them watch what we do as we go about our everyday lives.

We don’t have to make children learn, we just have to let them learn."

Me: A friend shared this article with me on Facebook because he knew that the conclusion (quoted above) would be right up my alley. I've seen so many times with my own daughter the way she learns by figuring things out, and playing around with open-ended toys. The whole reason for my shift in my blog's focus over this past year has been that I don't want to see traditional school negatively impact her natural tendency to learn through play and inquiry. 

I think that this general dynamic remains true for older kids, too. They don't play in the same way, of course, but they learn most deeply by striving to understand things that are interesting to them. That's what I think, and it's always good to see articles published that back this theme up. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This post may contain affiliate links. 

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: August 12: #BookLists Galore, Girls and #Math, #Reading Communities

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this relatively light week include #BookLists (lots of those!), #DiverseBooks, #PictureBooks, #STEAM, #STEM, activity books, the Cybils Awards, growing bookworms, math, Matt de la Pena, NCTE, reading communities, and reading aloud. 


Author @mattdelapena Wins the @ncte National Intellectual Freedom Award  @GalleyCat via @PWKidsBookshelf

Book Lists

First Half Recap Of 2016 #PictureBooks @bottomshelfbks @HuffingtonPost  via @100scopenotes #kidlit #BookList

5 Fabulous #PictureBooks About #School - a #BookList from @housefullbkwrms  #kidlit

Election + President Books Worth Casting a Vote For, a @growingbbb #BookList #PictureBooks

#Math Art Books for #STEAM learning, activity books, #PictureBooks + more from @momandkiddo  #BookList

Top Ten Books for Principals to #ReadAloud at Staff Meetings by @ReadByExample @nerdybookclub

Excellent #BookList from Jean Little Library:  Strong Minds, Strong Hearts, Strong Girls - recent titles  #kidlit 

On the #Cybils blog: #BookList by @AnnettePimentel | #Baseball Stories You (Probably) Didn’t Know  #kidlit 


Beyond a Snowy Day: @FuseEight rounds up some Out-of-Print African-American Children’s Book Classics  #kidlit 

Reading + Growing Bookworms

One mom's solution to kids #reading "Junk Food for the Brain" | keep better quality stuff on hand  @TheCathInTheHat

Read with a kid, learn something - @pwbalto shares recent #reading experiences w/ kids at the #library

Black boys in ‘book deserts’ don’t get inspiring #literary experiences. Let’s do better  @Chalkbeat @PWKidsBookshelf

The Power of a #Reading Community: "being part of a community... pushes you to be better" says @frankisibberson 

Parenting + Outdoor Play

Timely for me: Yes, your kids can and should pack their own #school lunches @washingtonpost via @RaiseAnAdult

Physical Activity Boosts Brain Power + Academic Performance in Kids + Teens - researchers report  @hey_sigmund

The movement to bring back ‘risky’ play for children (in playgrounds + parks) @globeandmail via @EllenBSandseter


What's Keeping Women Out of Science, #Math Careers? Calculus + Confidence -  @LianaHeitin  @educationweek #STEM

This I like: #STEM Camp Shows Girls Can not only “get math” but get EXCITED about #math  @MIND_Research

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Woodpecker Wants A Waffle: Steve Breen

Book: Woodpecker Wants A Waffle
Author: Steve Breen
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8


Woodpecker Wants A Waffle is an appealing new picture book by Steve Breen. It's about an enterprising woodpecker named Benny who, on smelling the waffles from a new breakfast place, decides that he wants to try them. I mean, he really, really wants to try them. He tries various tricks and disguises, but the dour waitress is not to be fooled. The other animals mock him for his quest. But, as you would expect, Benny finds a clever way to get his way in the end. 

Breen's text is brief and to the point, but with some nice vocabulary ("investigate", "declared"), and read-aloud-friendly sound effects ("TAP! TAP! TAP!", "BAP!", "FWAP!"). After all of the animals chime in regarding how ridiculous Benny's quest is ("BEARS DON'T EAT BAGELS!", etc.), this text follows:

""Well, why not?" Benny asked.

"Why not?" the animals grumbled,
chirped, croaked, and whispered.

They thought, and thought, and
thoughts, and thought...

"Because I SAID so, said Bunny." (on the next page)

I was so grateful that the other animals didn't magically realize that Benny was right, or any didactic nonsense like that. And I loved Benny's solution, which puts the other animals in their place and gains him waffles. 

Breen's ink, watercolor, and colored pencil illustrations have a fairly minimalist look, sprinkled with kid- and parent-friendly humor. I especially liked the tall beehive hairdo on the waitresses head, and Benny attempting to sneak in by camouflaging himself against a large woman's bird-patterned skirt.  His milk carton disguise is rather priceless, too. There's almost a cartoon feel to the book, helped by the sound effects ("SWOOSH!" goes the milk carton into the trash). 

Woodpecker Wants A Waffle is a joyful celebration of persisting to get what you want, even if you have to be a bit sneaky about it. It has kid-friendly humor, fun language aspects for read-aloud, and no moral message at all. A delight through and through. I think it would make a wonderful group read-aloud; libraries will definitely want to give Woodpecker Wants A Waffle a look. Parents may want to make sure there are actual waffles available before reading this one at home, though. Recommended!

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: June 14, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: August 10: #PictureBook Sorting, #Audiobooks + the New Harry Potter

JRBPlogo-smallToday, I will be sending out a new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter has refocused recently, and now contains content from my blog focused on growing joyful learners, including bookworms, mathematicians, and learners of all types. The newsletter is sent out every two to three weeks.

Newsletter Update:  In this issue I have four book reviews (picture book through middle grade) as well as a post about the many benefits of sorting through our picture books. I also have one post about my daughter's latest literacy milestone, inventing connections to authors and illustrators. I close with two posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter, and one with more in-depth highlights from articles about the joy of learning

Reading Update: In the past two weeks I read/listened to four adult titles. This mix basically reflects no print reading time at all, but extra time spent on audiobooks. I'm doing some physical therapy for a hip issue and I'm getting in a lot of audio time. I read:

I'm currently reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, etc., and listening to Off the Grid (the most recently published Joe Pickett title) by C. J. BoxI'm going to need a new audiobook series now that I'm about to finish the Joe Pickett books, if anyone has suggestions... I'm looking for mystery series with plenty of installments, available in audio format with decent narration. Other audio series that I have read include Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Paul Doiron, Louise Penny, Victoria Thompson, Robert Crais, and Jacqueline Winspear. In terms of print reading, I do have a bunch of children's books at the top of my queue right now. If only life would slow down a bit to allow me more time for non-audiobook reading. 

The books my husband and I and our babysitter have been reading to our daughter in 2016 can be found here. Hard to believe, but the kiddo will be starting first grade next week. I'll let you know how that goes, in terms of affecting her interest in reading. Lately she's been very interested in playing "library" in my office. She is the librarian, and I ask her for book recommendations based on a series, color, or other attribute. There are now stacks of books all over my office that would mystify an actual librarian, but that make sense to my daughter. She has been really pushing the Calendar Mysteries series by Ron Roy, as well as the Alice-Miranda books by Jacqueline Harvey

 I'm continuing to share all of my longer reads, as well as highlights from my picture book reads with my daughter, via the #BookADay hashtag on Twitter. Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. Wishing you all plenty of time for summer reading.

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart: Lauren DeStefano

Book: The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Pages: 208
Age Range: 8-12

I picked up The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart because I had enjoyed Lauren DeStefano's previous book, A Curious Tale of the In-Between.  Once I started reading this new title I as unable to put it down. The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart is a creepy tale of two children who live in a group home near the woods. The boy, Lionel, is wild, with sharp senses and a tendency towards feral behavior. He thinks of himself as more animal than human. Lionel is somewhat tamed, however, but the quiet, gentle Marybeth. Until, that is, Marybeth sneaks out one night in search of a mysterious blue creature, and becomes the one who needs to be tamed. The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart is a celebration of friendship and the unique attributes of children. It's also a ghost story, and a mystery. It is haunting and memorable. 

DeStefano's characterization is quite strong in The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart. Lionel and Marybeth are fully realized, and Lionel is particularly interesting. DeStefano also gradually reveals the nature of their children's caregiver, Mrs. Mannerd. The reader starts out thinking that she doesn't particularly care about the eight kids in her care, but this proves not to be the case at all. The other kids are, admittedly, rather one-dimensional, but I think this is accurate to how Lionel sees them. 

Here's a snippet that I flagged early in the book:

"But was too late for that. Lionel already understood. He could  make the chickens lay eggs and he could reason with the most stubborn of foxes. But he had learned years ago that humans were more dangerous than the things that stalked about the wilderness." (Chapter 3 ARC)

The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart is clearly set in the past, though an exact date isn't given. There's a reference to something in the near past having taken place 10 years after "the war",  but an exact date isn't necessary. The book feels timeless. There are (non-cellular) phones and cars. However, what's striking to the modern adult reader is the lack of supervision of Mrs. Mannerd's house by any outside agencies. Even when Marybeth's behavior becomes highly erratic, Mrs. Mannerd makes her own decisions about what to do. 

There are disturbing aspects to The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart, including past violence towards children. The details are more alluded to than spelled out, however, and I think that most middle grade readers will be able to handle the story. I would keep it away from highly sensitive kids, though, to avoid nightmares.

It's hard book to put down once one starts reading it, because of the mystery and because one cares what happens to Lionel and Marybeth. Kids who enjoy details about animals will especially enjoy The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart. Lionel is constantly thinking of things in terms of animal responses. Like this:

"Lionel was at the table early for once. He hadn't overslept; he had been awake all night. He rarely worried, but when he did, it made him nocturnal like the coyotes and spiders." (Chapter 4, ARC)

The bottom line is that kids (and adults) who enjoy ghostly supernatural tales will enjoy The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart. It's well-written, with strong characterization, and plenty of suspense to keep readers turning the pages. Recommended!

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BWKids) 
Publication Date: September 13, 2016
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

The Many Benefits of Sorting Our #PictureBooks

Recently my six-year-old daughter was complaining tearfully about not being in charge of anything. Keeping her room clean didn't cut it as a suggestion. So I suggested that she could be in charge of organizing her picture books and setting some aside for donation. This suggestion took, and we've been working in small chunks on this rather large project. 

First my daughter made a plan. This involved a sketch of one set of bookshelves and some boxes, with a mass of connecting lines. It's not very legible, but the general idea is to sort the books into several categories:

  1. Books she wants to donate
  2. Books that are a "maybe" on keeping vs. donating
  3. Books that she definitely wants to keep
  4. Favorite books that she super-definitely wants to keep
  5. Books that she doesn't want in her room, but that we are allowed to keep for when she is older (e.g. books with scary covers)

We agreed that all three of us would have veto power on anything going into category 1. At the end of the process there won't be any books in category 2. The books in category 3 will go back on the shelves, with at least some level of organization as they are shelved. We'll find a special spot for the category 4 books. And the books in category 5 will go in my office. My daughter does the first pass sort, and then I go through and do a second pass. My husband checks the donate box to make sure there isn't anything he wants to keep. 

This is a slow process. What makes it time-consuming is that we are unearthing books that we love but haven't seen in a while, so we have to stop and read those. Some of the category 3 books also need to be read, so that we can assess whether or not we want to keep them. And some of the books in category four, well, we can never have those in hand without stopping to read them. In truth, not very many books actually stay in category 1, but there are a few. Here are some benefits of this project:

  • GoodnightTrainMy daughter feels empowered from being in charge of something.
  • We are reading a lot of books, including long-lost favorites (like The Goodnight Train). 
  • We are creating some much-needed space on our bookshelves.
  • Others will be able to enjoy our donated books when we are ready to drop them off. [There's a nearby Little Free Library that we plan to visit. We've already given away three boxes of board books.]
  • When we are finished, it will be easier to find particular books, particularly the super-duper favorites. 

I do realize that we are fortunate to have so many books in the first place, and I am working to convey this fact to my daughter. I just read an article about a study that identified "book deserts" in low-income neighborhoods in several US cities. Here's a quote from the article:

"The researchers found stark disparities in access to children's books for families living in high-poverty areas. Borderline communities in all three cities had substantially greater numbers of books - an average of 16 times as many books per child - than did the high-poverty neighborhoods in the same cities.

This disparity was even more pronounced in Washington, D.C. In the high-poverty neighborhood of Anacostia, 830 children would have to share a single age-appropriate book, while only two children would need to share a book in the borderline neighborhood of Capitol Hill."

When I compare the picture painted by this article with the stacks of books in our house, I feel sad. Certainly I feel determined to make sure that our unwanted books eventually find their way to good homes.

But in the meantime, we are enjoying the process of sorting picture books. When we're finished I'll post the list of the super-duper favorites. How do you all organize your picture books? 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: August 5: #KidLitCon, #DiverseBooks and Book Deserts

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include: #DiverseBooks, #KidLitCon, #BookLists, #PictureBooks, book deserts, book reviews, free reading time, growing bookworms, beginning readers, kidlitosphere, libraries, math, schools, and STEM.

Book Lists

Some of the Best #PictureBooks of 2016 Thus Far (Mid-Year Summary) from @FuseEight  #BookList

Beach reading for summer days: 5 #PictureBooks to share from @MaryAnnScheuer  #kidlit

Death Becomes Children’s Lit: More 2016 Books on Loss — @100scopenotes  #BookList #kidlit

Giant List of Popular Preschool Books, classic + modern from @growingbbb  #BookList

Read Around Town: #PictureBooks that celebrate the #Library from @mrskatiefitz  #literacy

Review Round-Up: Books for Beginning Readers (Easy Reader + Chapter Books), July 2016 @mrskatiefitz  #kidlit 

14 Books for Kids Obsessed with Pokémon Go | @literacious @ReadBrightly  #kidlit

Diverse Books

We need more #DiverseBooks like THE SNOWY DAY (books w/ kids of color that are fun to read)  @Rumaan @Slate

 Growing Bookworms

A defense of giving kids time for independent reading in #school by @pernilleripp (also referencing @donalynbooks

Study identifies 'book deserts'—poor neighborhoods lacking children's books—across country  @physorg_com @JetBlue

My Kids Read Only Subliterary Branded Commodities. Yours Probably Do, Too! @gabrielroth @Slate  | Not true for all

9 Benefits Of #Reading With Your Kid, According To Science  @romper via @PWKidsBookshelf #RaisingReaders #ReadAloud


KidLitCon2016LogoSquareCall for Proposals for #KidLitCon 2016 Extended to August 7th - Bloggers, Librarians, Teachers, share your ideas 

Lots of interesting #kidlit tidbits in Fusenews: Though I See @The_Pigeon  As More of a King George Type @FuseEight 


Teaching #Grit Through Sportsmanship, @mssackstein shares things kids can learn from playing sports, like focus

Students Gain New Perspectives on #Math Through Nature, Movement + Games in @MIND_Research Summer Program

Top 3 Tips To Get Rid Of ‘I-am-bad-at-Math’ Syndrome in the Classroom | Merge #Math + Fun  @magicalmaths @drdouggreen 

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

New study finds people who read more live longer. Perhaps I could read all day every day and live forever @nytimes

Enthusiasm at the Edges: Thinking Aloud About Book Reviews of the best + worst #kidlit titles @100scopenotes 

Food for thought in this teen op-ed @GdnChildrensBks  | Is YA fiction too politically correct?

The In-Between | Behaviors that @ShawnaCoppola practices when she is between reads  #Reading #Writing

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

The Ark Plan (Edge of Extinction, Book 1): Laura Martin

Book: The Ark Plan (Edge of Extinction, Book 1)
Author: Laura Martin
Illustrator: Eric Deschamps
Pages: 368
Age Range: 8-12

EdgeOfExtinctionThe Ark Plan is the first book in a new middle grade post-apocalyptic series by Laura Martin called Edge of Extinction. The premise is irresistible, and the execution is both suspenseful and entertaining. The premise is that scientists have brought dinosaurs to life, shades of Jurassic Park. The dinosaurs, however, brought with them a global pandemic that nearly wiped out the human race. Humans (in the US, anyway) have retreated to four underground bunkers, led by a man calling himself Noah. Dinosaurs roam the earth. 

150 years (and 3 Noahs) later, 12-year-old Sky Mundy lives in the underground North Compound. She has been ill-treated and ostracized ever since her father escaped from the compound 5 years earlier. When she discovers a long-hidden letter from her father, Sky and her best friend Shawn set out on a dangerous journey aboveground. As they struggle to survive in a dinosaur-dominated world, they gradually learn that not everything they've been told in the North Compound is true. 

Sky is a great character: brave, smart, and impulsive, driven to learn as much as she can about dinosaurs, and to uncover the mystery of her father's disappearance. Shawn is smart and mechanically-oriented, but ill-equipped to handle the world outside of the compound. Their strong friendship, with occasional spats and genuine worries, feels realistic. The gray underground bunker where the kids live is convincingly portrayed, and reminded me a little bit of Jeanne DuPrau's City of Ember

But it's the dinosaur-filled, post-apocalyptic setting that makes The Ark Plan stand out. Again and again, Martin reminds us of how different the real world is from the sheltered underground life that Sky and Shawn have lived. Like this:

"It turned out that we weren't very good at hiking. After spending all twelve years of our lives walking on smooth tunnel floors, we found ourselves on uneven earth for the first time. Rocks, tree branches, and animal holes seemed to come out of nowhere. We both fell. A lot." (Page 95)


"A small herd of what I thought were triceratops grazed about a half mile to our right, and tiny dots of green and red to our left had to be dinosaurs, but they were too far away to make out what kind. I looked up, and for the first time in my life, I saw more than just a small patch of sky. Fluffy white clouds piled on top of one another as they shuffled across a blue sky so vibrant it made my eyes hurt." (Page 102)

Occasional pencil illustrations from Eric Deschamps help to bring the underground and aboveground worlds to life. A village set in the treetops is pure, kid-enticing perfection. 

The Ark Plan also has one of my favorite aspects of long-term post-apocalyptic books: hints about the previous world. Like this:

"I stopped to inspect a crumbling brick wall. It had been decorative once, but time and passing dinosaurs had collapsed huge sections of it. A metal plaque had fallen off the front and now lay half buried in the dirt. Curious, I bent and pulled it out. White Oak Estates was etched elegantly into its surface." (Page 249)

So basically, The Ark Plan has:

  • A post-apocalyptic world with humans struggling to survive;
  • An oppressive government with secrets;
  • Strong friendship dynamics between kids out on their own;
  • A fast-paced, danger-filled plot;
  • A mysterious quest; AND
  • Dinosaurs!

What is there not to like? The Ark Plan is a wild ride of pure, kid-friendly fun, highly recommended and certainly belonging in elementary and middle school libraries everywhere. This is summer reading at it's best. I can't wait for the next book!

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: May 10, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the author

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

#JoyOfLearning Articles from @KJDellAntonia + @LindaFlanagan2 + Adventures in #Literacy Land

JoyOFLearningLogoIn this post I share three recent articles related to the joy of learning. The first is for parents, and is about "the right way" to bribe your kids to read. While I am philosophically opposed to bribing my daughter to read, I did find some good points in the article (particularly quotes from Edward Deci, author of Why We Do What We Do). The second article is about how to make math more emotionally engaging for kids, and the third is about helping kids to find joy in reading in school. Both of these latter two articles are focused more on teachers than parents. I found all of these articles worth reading. 

Some reasonable points in "The Right Way to Bribe Your Kids to Read" by @KJDellAntonia but I still won't do it 

KJ Dell’Antonia: "But if offering an incentive for reading is such a terrible idea, why does it still seem so common, even among parents who are aware of the pitfalls?

Perhaps my peers and I are too prone to valuing short-term wins over long-term learning (witness our tendency to “help” our children with homework). Or perhaps we just know how important reading is — and care more that our kids are good at it than that they love it.

Some experts actually agree that rewards can be useful, especially for younger learners. “I think we underestimate the power of extrinsic motivation,” said Rahil Briggs, director of pediatric behavioral health at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. “You want your child to be naturally fascinated, and some are, but some children can benefit from a little bit of a jump-start.”"

Me: I got to the above point in reading this article, and found myself shaking my head. I don't want to offer my daughter any incentives to get her to read - I want her to read because she wants to. I don't even join library summer reading programs (though I'm sure that some are much better than others).

I think that Dell’Antonia is right that if one is going to offer rewards, there are better vs. worse ways to do that, as she discusses in the article. And I think that every family is different, and needs to find what works for them. So, if you are struggling to push a child to do more reading, to slow down summer slide, you might find some ideas here. But me, I'm going to focus on keeping plenty of books around the house, letting my daughter pick what she wants from the library, and making sure that we have plenty of cozy family reading time together. 

How to Make #Math More Emotionally Engaging For Students | @LindaFlanagan2 @MindShiftKQED  #STEM

Linda Flanagan: "Is there a way to separate negative emotions from the subject, so that more students experience math with a sense of satisfaction and pleasure? Immordino-Yang believes so. “It’s not about making math ‘fun’,” she added; games and prizes tend to be quick fixes. Instead, it’s about encouraging the sense of accomplishment that comes from deep understanding of difficult concepts. “It’s about making it satisfying, interesting, and fulfilling.”

Be clear about why understanding math concepts matters. Kids who believe that they must simply endure algebra and calculus until they’re through with school—and that the actual learning is pointless because they’ll never use it again—should be reminded why understanding mathematical concepts is valuable."

Me: This article has some nice, practical suggestions for helping kids to change their emotions about math, by focusing on the purpose of learning math, identifying role models, and eliminating sources of fear. I've been doing some of these things instinctively with my daughter (like pointing out real-world examples where math is useful to us), and I like having some more ideas. 

The importance of #teachers helping kids to find joy in what they read at Adventures in #Literacy Land 

Adventures in Literacy Land: "Once students find that reading is enjoyable and worth their time, they search for books that will give them joy. They find joy in all that they read, even if it is a topic they don't love. Finding joy in even the mundane makes the task of reading worthwhile...

So many times we offer extrinsic rewards to coax our students to read. Studies have shown that those rewards do no always work. We have to help children find the intrinsic motivation to read. When reading makes a reader feel good, which leads to more reading, which leads to more success with the text. That creates lifelong readers!"

Me: I'm grateful to the author of this post for reminding teachers how important it is to show kids how to find JOY in reading. If we just focus on the mechanics, without teaching kids about what makes reading wonderful, we will fail them every time. It's easy to get caught up in testing and in "improvement". But the fundamental truth is that if kids enjoy reading, they will spend time reading. The rest will follow. This article is part of a series discussing the book Reading Wellness: Lessons in Independence and Proficiency by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This post may contain affiliate links. 

The Rosemary Spell: Virginia Zimmerman

Book: The Rosemary Spell
Author: Virginia Zimmerman
Pages: 280
Age Range: 10-12

The Rosemary Spell is a deliciously creepy supernatural mystery centered around a love of books. Only child Rosemary has grown up spending most of her time with her best friend Adam and Adam's older sister, Shelby. The three of them have always shared in particular a love of books, with Shelby the discoverer of many classics enjoyed by all three kids. Now, as Adam and Rosie hit middle school, Shelby is starting to pull away, drawn into activities and older friends. When Adam and Rosie discover an ancient book, however, a book with peculiar properties, it is Shelby who is endangered. Rosemary and Adam end up racing against the clock and tracking down clues from Shakespeare in an attempt to save her.

My favorite things about this book are:

  • The way that all of the main characters live and breathe books.
  • The friendship between Adam and Rosie, in particular the way that the length of time they've been friends enhances their relationship, as well as the way they are (mostly) loyal to one another.
  • The inclusion of a dynamic and engaging teacher for Adam and Rosie (a school project forms a key part of the story).
  • Adam's somewhat OCD personality (he has a compulsive need to put things in order, and has to have all of his food separated). He's not stated as having obsessive compulsive disorder, or being on the autism spectrum, but he's definitely a bit outside of the mainstream. I also love how Rosie accepts him for who he is, just as he accepts that she won't, for example, be nearly as tidy as he is.
  • The close relationship between Rosie and her single mother, portrayed even as Rosie doesn't let her mother in on the mystery.
  • The inclusion of visits to an elderly poet living with Alzheimers Disease in a local nursing home.  

Here are a couple of quotes to give you a feel for the book: 

"There's one shelf. On the shelf is a book. An old book.

A secret, ancient book! Authors I love appear in my mind. E. Nesbit leaps up and down with excitement, and J. K. Rowling raises an eyebrow." (Page 18)


"Sometimes I recognize younger Adams in his face. The one that looks at me now, all eager and earnest, is about five and sincerely believe that we can build a secret tunnel between our houses. Adam's faith that people might leave ancient books hidden in cupboards for future generations to find is infectious. I believe he could be right." (Page 24)


"Mom and I make dinner together and read a little on the couch before bed. I nudge her toes with mine. She looks up, in that daze of being lost in a book.

"We're sifting words." I echo Constance.

Delight breaks her daze. "Together." (Page 94)

The Rosemary Spell is a musing on memory and friendship, wrapped into a suspenseful adventure, laced through with poetry. It has a little something for everyone, and would make a great addition to any classroom, school, or public library serving 10 to 12 year olds. I would have absolutely adored it as a 10 year old, and read in a single day as an adult. Highly recommended, especially for fans of books, mysteries, or magic. 

Publisher: Clarion Books (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: December 1, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).